Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Identity Crisis

The main thing I've enjoyed about reading The Family, by Jack and Judy Balswick, is the perspective it has given me on family life in it's entirety, not only in the context of passing time, but also in the fabric of the broader culture and society in which a family finds itself. It's very easy to become entrenched in the problems and struggles we are having as a family in the here and now. In some ways, guiding a family feels like steering a ship through uncharted waters in a thick fog! It helps to zoom out and gain a picture of God's purpose in the creation of families.

Looking at an area like Gender and Sexuality in the context of the family has taken me out of that immediate space and given me a bigger vision to contemplate. What does it mean to be Christ's person, in our manhood or our womanhood? How do we as Christians walk a biblical line between traditional cultural norms of masculinity/femininity and the redefinition of gender roles that has been characteristic of modern society?

The Balswicks tend toward an egalitarian viewpoint, arguing that in response to society's shifting of concepts of gender roles, Christians should take the opportunity to re-align with God's intended purpose for all humans, rather than jumping to defend traditional definitions. Although this is an excellent point, once again, in their desire to avoid 'proof-texting', the Balswicks gloss over significant passages which deal directly with masculine/feminine identity. Their argument is that the Bible says far more about general Christian character than about normative differences in temperament and behaviour for males and females. I agree...but is that grounds to ignore the brief passages that bear directly on this issue?...not convinced.

One point I found resonated with me: the Balswicks argue persuasively for the need to actively liberate men from traditional definitions of masculinity that have hindered them from developing healthy relationships. I have believed for a while now that Australian masculine identity is in crisis. I think my husband agrees with me! Qualities that were traditionally seen as strengths for men, in our technologised, post-feminist world now seem a bit superfluous. What does it mean to be a man? What is all that testosterone for?

The suffering-servant-leadership that Paul puts forward in Ephesians is given the name 'soft patriarchy' in this book, a term for homes where male leadership is supported, but where fathers have greater emotional engagement with their wives and children. While they neither endorse nor condemn 'soft patriarchy', the authors are strenuous in making the point that fathers need to be involved in their children's lives, as equal partners with mothers, enacting together the four pillars of family life: covenant love, mutual empowerment, forgiving grace and intimacy; and seeking to follow Jesus, the ultimate human being, who integrated both 'masculine' and 'feminine' characteristics.

Just as the idea of gender roles is fraught with cultural baggage, so too is the realm of sexuality. I think, as Christians, we react to the brokenness of our world by retreating to a fixation on behaviour - preventing wrong acts. I know this can sometimes be my attitude: worrying about what the future may hold for my daughters, and thinking about how to control the environment in order to circumvent sexual sin. I found the Balswicks discussion of 'authentic' sexuality to be realistic and freeing - freeing to be reminded that God made us as sexual beings in order to fulfil his good purpose in creation. Of course, for many people this goes painfully wrong. The authors are honest about the fact that 'the comprehensiveness of the fall means that achieving an authentic sexuality involves conflict and struggle for everyone'. As sexuality becomes more and more a point of obsession in our world, it is good for us as Christians to acknowledge it, but to frame sexuality as a part of the fabric of the whole person, not the defining characteristic. True humanity is found in having an identity in Christ.

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